After a summer of backyard barbecuing, tailgates give us the perfect excuse to keep our grill fired through the fall. Want to really score this season? Do like Charlie McKenna, chef of Chicago’s famed barbecue joint Lillie’s Q, and start planning now. Follow his winning tailgating tips and ideas below for everything from easy-to-eat appetizers to moonshine cocktails—plus the gear he uses to pull the whole thing off in a snap.
- Build your menu around a theme. Most times, I revolve mine around the teams that are playing and the regions they’re from. I went to Florida State, so if we play Florida Gators then I like to cook something with gator meat. If we’re playing a Northern team like Wisconsin, then I’ll do something associated with cheese and brats. I want people to come to my tailgate party and be shocked that they can find this type of food offered.
- Make appetizers easy to eat with your hands. Think smoked wings and pulled pork sliders. I will serve one to two main meats that can either be eaten with your hands or in a sandwich made with bread or a biscuit.
- Learn to control the heat of your grill or smoker. Then everything else will come easy. I love a Backwoods Smoker.
- Shake up cocktails ahead of time. That way, you can just pass the ball jars around and drink right from them. I like moonshine cocktails in quart mason jars and koozies for canned beers. If you’re tailgating, go for an American session beer like Bud Light or a craft beer like Firestone Walker, Pivo Pils or Union Jack.
- Always have a set of cornhole. On the Lillie’s Q trailer, we have DirecTV. Plus, at least one guest usually provides some entertainment.
- Let guests play DJ. Just make sure their selections are upbeat and keep the tailgate party going.